Austin Bay

In the wake of the murder of 16 innocent Afghan civilians, slain by a lone American soldier, the Afghan government is asking the Obama administration to do two things.

The first request should surprise no one. The Afghanis want America to bring the mass murderer to justice, and do so quickly. An open, transparent investigation and trial, conducted fairly but also swiftly, will forward reconciliation. The death penalty must be considered and, if the murderer is convicted, it must be imposed.

The second request, however, is even more morally sobering. It is also more difficult to execute, which means fulfilling it requires steadfast international leadership by President Barack Obama. The Afghan government wants the U.S. and NATO to avoid a rapid and precipitous withdrawal, for it would undercut 10 years of effort and all but certainly restore the Taliban's homicidal regime.

Mass murder lies behind this second request -- the prevention of mass murder, on a genocidal scale. Following America's Vietnam retreat, Cambodia's unrestrained communist potentate, Pol Pot, slaughtered 2 million Cambodian civilians. The body count left following a Taliban restoration could rival Pol Pot's genocide.

Avoiding Afghani killing fields requires a firm commitment by the Obama administration to create certain minimum conditions before the U.S. departs the country.

At one time, Barack Obama knew what those minimum conditions are. Candidate Obama called Iraq the wrong war and implied Afghanistan was the right one. Obama said, "Only a comprehensive strategy that prioritizes Afghanistan and the fight against al-Qaida will succeed, and that's the change I'll bring to the White House." President Obama's 2009 policy study concluded that disrupting and defeating al-Qaida meant the U.S. had to promote "a more capable, accountable and effective" Afghan government, build "increasingly self reliant" Afghan security forces, support civilian constitutional government in Pakistan and pursue these goals with U.N. and international support.

Obama's fine words described necessary conditions to achieve vital goals. However, he undermined his own condition-based goals with a politically convenient time scheme: The U.S. would begin to "transition" from Afghanistan in 2011 with 2014, to use Joe Biden's now sad phrase (November 2010), a "drop-dead date" for withdrawal.

Nothing like telling the enemy, "Hey, just hang on and we're gone." This from the people who touted "smart diplomacy."

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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